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Colorado’s Canyonlands. Credit: Gateway Canyons Resort

Colorado’s awe-inspiring mountains, red rock outcroppings and countless rivers, lakes and waterfalls beg for a road trip. We decided to make the drive, but had another mission: to taste our way through the state.

Follow Forbes Travel Guide’s culinary tour in our three-part series. For our first leg, we visited western Colorado, flying into Grand Junction and then setting out to Palisade to discover Grand Valley, the state’s little-known wine region. Its high altitude, rich soil and snow-fed irrigation make the land a prime place to grow peaches — the local specialty — apples and other fruit. An open mind and palate are all you’ll need to enjoy these wines.

Carlson Vineyards’ Selections. Credit: Jennifer Kester

Where to Drink
One of the state’s two designated American Viticultural Areas, Grand Valley sits 12 miles east of Grand Junction. In most of Grand Valley’s 25-plus wineries, you’ll enjoy complimentary year-round tastings of pours made with local fruit. But you won’t find lines of tourists or a whiff of pretense.

Open since 1988, family-owned Carlson Vineyards takes a playful approach to wine — cats, dinosaurs and iguanas grace the bottle labels. The tasting room looks like a small white shed, but behind it lies a shady, verdant escape with Adirondack chairs that invite you to linger over Tyrannosaurus Red (Lemberger) or Laughing Cat Gewurztraminer. The fruit wines, like peach and plum, are a specialty; a glass of the cherry wine arrives rimmed in chocolate for a decadent treat.

The area’s oldest winery, Colorado Cellars, is also among its most decorated (the back bar wall is covered with its awards). Sip the velvety pinot noir with black cherry notes, or Roadkill Red, an unfortunate name for a popular semisweet red blend. Among the whites, the Alpenglo riesling unleashes apricot and peach flavors.

Plunge into the fruit wines, like the sweet peach, the mouth-puckering cherry and the tart blueberry. Give the Spiced Nektar mead a go; reminiscent of mulled cider, it’s a great autumn pick.

Sage Creations. Credit: Pat McGovern

On your way to Colorado Cellars, you likely noticed the lavender fields that belong to Sage Creations. If the plant is in bloom, you’ll want to stop to snap a few photos of the lines of colorful lavender fronting a mountain. Or pop into the store (open May to September) to pick up the dried flowers for cooking and more.

Mead has been a trendy tipple. A good place to sample the fermented honey drink is the appropriately honey-colored tasting room of Meadery of the Rockies. The medium sweet wine is a great entrée to mead — it’s robust but not cloying, with clover and anise peeking through.  Raspberry and cherry meads deliver ripe fruit flavors.

When you’re done tasting, peruse the Meadery’s honey-spiked foodstuffs, like the cinnamon-honey butter.

For something stronger, venture to Peach Street Distillers, the oldest locally owned distillery in the state. The Goat artisanal vodka is popular, and locals prefer it in the form of Peach Street’s bloody marys. Citrus and nutty notes make the Jackelope gin stand out, and it goes down smoothly.

Tasty Choices at Alida’s Fruits. Credit: Jennifer Kester

Where to Stop Off
Pull up to the red-barn-like structure housing Alida’s Fruits and bespectacled Alida Helmer will likely greet you from behind the counter of the country store. She turns fruit into everything from salsa to syrup. Among the more than 50 jams, pick up the sweet peach. If the fruit is in season, add the luscious treat to your stockpile, along with Peaches and Cream (white-chocolate-covered dried peaches) and dried apples dipped in caramel and then milk chocolate.

Where to Stay and Play
After all of the imbibing, soak in more of the landscape by making the nearly 60-mile drive to Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Gateway Canyons Resort. Take your time: the journey through striking canyon country and the occasional big-horn sheep grazing on the side of the road warrants a leisurely pace.

The most stunning scene of all surrounds the remote 52-room adobe property. Giant, fiery red rocks pierce the vivid blue sky, making for a picturesque contrast.

Gateway Canyons Resort. Credit: Gateway Canyons Resort

If you still need to stretch your legs after walking through the immaculate grounds, visit the hotel’s impressive Gateway Canyons Auto Museum. The more than 50 American vehicles on display come from the personal collection of John Hendricks, owner of Gateway Canyons and founder of Discovery Communications (the parent company of the Discovery Channel, TLC and more). Check out everything from the banana-yellow 1928 Cadillac Series 341 Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton to a glitzy gold 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car — one of only two created, it was purchased in 2007 for $3.2 million.

If the auto museum didn’t tip you off, Gateway Canyons is a hotel for adventure seekers. There’s hiking, mountain biking, Jeep and ATV tours, helicopter rides and much more. To experience canyon country outside of a car, sign up for a horseback ride at the hotel’s nearby Palisade Ranch. Brian, our escort, met us in the hotel lobby and looked every bit the ranch foreman with a white bushy handlebar mustache and a straw cowboy hat with a brown striped feather tucked into its side.

Gateway Canyons Auto Museum. Credit: Gateway Canyons Resort

He drove us to the ranch, which holds a stable of more than 30 horses. We rode Splash, a black and white paint-draft mix. “He is a perfect gentleman,” Brian told us, and he was right. As Splash led us through a trail cutting through the 500-acre swath of Unaweep Canyon, he never strayed and was patient as we marveled over the majestic terrain while occasionally snapping pictures. In the fall, the canyon bursts with purple, red, orange and yellow.

After a long day of sightseeing, seek respite in your Southwestern-themed accommodations. Kick up your feet in front of the kiva fireplace, or soak your weary body in the room’s private outdoor Jacuzzi.

Where to Dine
To taste Colorado’s famed meat, dine at the hotel’s casual Paradox Grille. The house-smoked black angus brisket arrives on a tray with barbecue beans and housemade corn bread. The heaping helping of fork-tender brisket alone will fill you up.

Brisket also appears on the breakfast menu at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Entrada Restaurant. The fine-dining restaurant has a delectable (and heavy) smoked brisket hash and eggs alongside other meat-centric morning meals like the smoked porchetta Benedict or the cowboy breakfast with eggs, flaky biscuits, hash browns and game sausage.

Entrada’s Filet. Credit: Jennifer Kester

Come to Entrada at night, and while you’ll have the same attentive, friendly service, the mood gets more intimate. Out on the patio, strung lights and cooler temperatures invite you to lounge in the comfortable alfresco seating areas or around the fire pits with a refreshing prickly pear margarita.

Or head inside for dinner under the beaded chandeliers in hues like orange and powder blue. Keep it light with the appetizer so that you can indulge for the entrée. Start with the compressed watermelon, which sits on citrus-scented ricotta and is topped with arugula, crispy prosciutto and sherry vinegar, or the kanpachi crudo with red Fresno chile jam, shaved radish, cucumber, daikon sprouts and a sprinkle of furikake.

Then, move onto the meat. Doused with a chipotle demi-glace, the beef filet deserves your attention. The melt-in-your-mouth cut comes with a creamy corn pudding, cotija cheese and succotash. It makes for a delicious end to a Palisades food tour.